It wouldn’t be surprising if the Celtics kept the same offensive approach from Game 3 to Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Because the Warriors haven’t proven able to stop them.
Physically, is Golden State capable of slowing Boston down? Because an incredible truth is emerging about these Celtics in the 2022 playoffs: they have proven to be bigger, longer, and more athletic than all of their opponents. Golden State is easily the best-equipped team to overcome it. But think about that for a second: the Celtics, whose tallest starter is Al Horford at 6-foot-9, have been too big. For everyone.
In Game 3, that advantage in size, length and athleticism was on full display. The Celtics decided to attack the rim more on offense, instead of relying on getting hot from three-point range. And they consistently made the Warriors look markedly smaller, slower, and less explosive, particularly when guys like Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams attacked them around the hoop. They also out-hustled the Warriors on the defensive glass, with a 47-31 edge in rebounding.
The result: a 55.6 shooting percentage on two-pointers, a 52-26 advantage in points in the paint, and a 16-point win. And that’s even as they shot an ehhh 70.4 percent from the free-throw line. Despite the Warriors waking up in the third quarter and briefly taking the lead, the Celtics ultimately surged back ahead. The aggression paid off.
The Celtics’ physical advantage is what it is. The Warriors may not have enough to stop it over the course of the series. So if you’re Boston, why fix something that ain’t broke?
Celtics Audio | Robert Williams Joins Grande & Max After Game 3
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Speaking to reporters the day after Game 3 on Thursday, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka acknowledged that the C’s wanted to impose their will physically around the rim. But he’s not about to abandon the three, particularly to create open looks on drive-and-kick plays. He believes that, despite their success in Game 3 with the increased aggression, they still have yet to find a perfect balance for their offense.
“We’re the bigger team. We want to impose our size in the series, no doubt about that,” Udoka said. “Like I said, we have multiple guys that can attack the paint. The way they help will lead to some kick-out threes. You want to have that balance, but at the same time using our size inside and getting the matchups that we like. The last piece, which we did extremely well last night, was the offensive rebounding, 15-for-22 second-chance points. Those all play into it.
“If we can get that mix of paint touches as well as kick-out threes, that would be the perfect storm.”
Mentally, it’s important for the Celtics to echo the sentiments of the late Kobe Bryant in a famous clip from a postgame press conference, after the Lakers had gone up 2-0 in the series at the time. A confused reporter asked a seemingly grumpy Kobe why he wasn’t happy to be up 2-0, which is when he delivered a quote that’s been repurposed by later generations of players:
“Job’s not finished. Job finished? You know, I don’t think so.”
Going into Game 4 (Friday, 9 p.m. ET on ABC and 98.5 The Sports Hub) with even just the same mentality they had going into Game 3, let alone the MAMBA mentality, would serve the Celtics well. The players at least seem to understand that the Warriors still can’t be dismissed as a challenge.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Robert Williams on Thursday, when asked if it felt like the C’s were overpowering the Warriors physically. “I can’t even sit here and say we’re muscling these guys, you know what I’m saying? But we seen something that we were lacking, we got it right.”
The mental aspect really is the most important thing. Because again, the Celtics’ physical advantage is obvious and undisputable. But that’s only one step. Next step is to have the right mentality and execute. Gotta take advantage of the advantage.
If they can do that, it’s going to be a mountain of a challenge for the Warriors to overcome.